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Customer Review

9 February 2012
Civilization has progressed. We no longer burn heretics at the stake.

Instead, according to sociologist Steven Goldberg, these days "all one has to lose by unpopular arguments is contact with people one would not be terribly attracted to anyway" (Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences: p222).

However, Goldberg underplays, not only the psychological impact of social ostracism, but also more ominous consequences that sometimes attach to contemporary heresy.

Bomb and death threats were issued repeatedly to women such as Erin Pizzey and Suzanne Steinmetz for pointing out that women were just as likely, or indeed slightly more likely, to perpetrate acts of domestic violence against their husbands and boyfriends as their husbands and boyfriends were to perpetrate acts of domestic violence against them – a finding that has now been replicated by literally hundreds of studies (Fiebert 2009; Archer 2000; see also Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren't Supposed to Know).

Similarly, in the 1970s, Arthur Jensen had to be issued with an armed guard while on campus at the University of California for suggesting in an article that it was a "not unreasonable" hypothesis that the black-white IQ gap was partially genetic in origin – a claim also well within the mainstream of scholarly opinion (see the survey of experts in I. Q. Controversy, the Media and Public Policy).

Political correctness has also cost people their jobs. Academics such as Chris Brand, Helmouth Nyborg, Lawrence Sommers, Frank Ellis and James Watson were forced to resign their positions for researching, or just mentioning, politically incorrect theories such as the possible social consequences of, or innate basis for, race and sex differences in behaviour and cognition.

The same fate has also befallen less prominent figures, some of whom have been deprived of their livelihoods simply on account of their political beliefs. Browne refers to the case of a headmaster sacked for saying Asian pupils should be obliged to learn English, a proposition subsequently adopted as official government policy (p50).

More generally, he points out that police and prison officers in the UK are currently barred from membership of the BNP, a legal and constitutional (albeit thuggish) political party (p51-2) – but not from membership of Sinn Fein, who until recently supported violent terrorism against the state, or of various revolutionary Marxist groups who openly advocate the violent overthrow of the state.

Yet if employees are sacked for their political beliefs or affiliations, they cannot even count on their trade unions to defend them. On the contrary, far from protecting employees from this treatment, trade unions have followed suit, at least one major trade union expelling a member for also being a member of a political party of which the union disapproved (p52) – then successfully defending this action in the European Court of Human rights by citing Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which purports to protect 'Freedom of Association', the precise same ostensible 'freedom' denied to employers by anti-discrimination laws (see ASLEF v UK [2007] ECHR 184).

Browne concludes "one must be very disillusioned with democracy not to find it at least slightly unsettling that in Europe in the twenty-first century government employees are being banned from joining certain legal political parties but not others, legal democratic party leaders are being arrested in dawn raids for what they have said and political parties leading the polls are being banned by judges" (p57).

Yet it is notable that Liberty, the pressure group ostensibly set up to defend civil liberties in the UK, has done nothing to oppose any of these infringements of basic rights to freedom of speech and association.

[In fact, Liberty has a long track record of tolerating breaches of civil liberties when the victims of these breaches are of a political persuasion to which the group is unsympathetic. When the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley was imprisoned without trial during WW2, the group (then called National Council for Civil Liberties) was silent. Instead, they protested only when he was eventually belatedly released, this self-styled 'civil liberties' group arguing that he should have been locked up without trial for his political views even longer!]

Of course, members of parties such as the BNP hardly represent a fashionable cause célèbre for civil libertarians. But, then, neither did other groups targeted for persecution at the time of their persecution. It is precisely this quality which rendered them so vulnerable.

Political correctness is often dismissed as a trivial issue. Free speech is never trivial. When people's lives are threatened and they lose their jobs and livelihoods because of currently unfashionable opinions, what we are witnessing is a contemporary form of McCarthyism.

Indeed, David Horowitz has argues, "The era of the progressive witch-hunt has been far worse in its consequences to individuals and freedom of expression than was the McCarthy era", not least because "unlike the McCarthy era witch-hunt, which lasted only a few years, the one enforced by left-wing 'progressives' is now entering its third decade and shows no signs of abating" (Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey).

Yet, while columnists, academics, opinion-formers and filmmakers delight in condemning without fear of reprisals a form of McCarthyism that ran out of steam over half a century ago (i.e. anti-communism), few dare to incur the wrath of the contemporary inquisition by exposing a modern McCarthyism right here in our midst.

Explaining Political Correctness
For Browne, political correctness is "the dictatorship of virtue" (p7) which replaces "reason with emotion" and subverts "objective truth to subjective virtue" (xiii). He sees political correctness as a dangerous alternative to factual correctness (p8), whereby "measuring stick of the acceptability of a belief is no longer its objective, empirically established truth but how well it fits in with the received wisdom of political correctness" (p5).

In fact, there is nothing particularly new about the phenomenon of political correctness.

After all, every age has its taboos. Formerly, compatibility with religious dogma represented the primary "measuring stick of the acceptability of a belief" – and heretics from Galileo to Darwin have long been persecuted for promoting the "objective empirically established truth" as a preferable alternative.

Browne acknowledges the analogies between religion and political correctness, noting how the latter "echoes religion in providing ready, emotionally-satisfying answers for a world too complex to understand fully and providing a gratifying sense of righteousness absent in our otherwise secular society" (p6) and how "Christianity... has shown many of the characteristics of modern political correctness and often went far further in enforcing its intolerance with violence" (p29).

Defining 'Political Correctness'
At its heart, political correctness evaluates a claim, not on its factual merits, but on its ideological appeal and offensiveness to certain interest groups. Certain views are held to be not only false, but also unacceptable to hold or openly defend and unutterable in polite company.

Near the beginning of his discussion, Browne provides a useful definition of political correctness: Viewing "intolerance of dissent" as at the heart of political correctness, he defines it as "an ideology which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and which makes believers feel that no dissent should be tolerated" (p4).

Drawing on and refining Browne's own definition, I would suggest that what is required for an opinion to be 'politically incorrect' is:
1) The existence of a group (women, blacks, homosexuals etc.) to whom the opinion in question is regarded as 'offensive';
2) The group in question must be perceived as 'oppressed' or 'disadvantaged'.

It is therefore perfectly politically correct to offer opinions that offend groups that are not regarded as 'oppressed groups' (e.g. the English, bankers, the upper-classes), but groups who possess 'victim-status' are deemed sacrosanct and hence exempt from any criticism.

However, victim-status itself appears to be rather arbitrarily bestowed. Certainly, actual disadvantage and poverty has little to do with it.

For example, it is widely acceptable to denigrate the white working-class and underclass (hence the relative acceptability of perjorative epithets such as 'chav' in the UK, or 'redneck' and 'white trash' in the US, in stark contrast to similar pejorative epithets directed at other economically-marginal groups: see The Redneck Manifesto), while, on the other hand, multi-millionaires who happen also to be black, female or homosexual are able to perversely pose as 'oppressed'.

Indeed, it seems the Left has largely abandoned its traditional constituency, the 'working classes' in favour of so-called minority groups (e.g. ethnic minorities, homosexuals, feminists, transsexuals). In the process, the 'Ordinary Working Man', once the quintessential proletarian, has found himself redefined in leftist demonology as a racist, homophobic, wife-beating bigot.

Similarly, it is acceptable to denigrate men in a way that is unacceptable in respect of women, despite the fact that, as Browne observes, "men were overwhelmingly underachieving compared with women at all levels of the education system, and were twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to commit suicide, three times as likely to be a victim of violent crime, four times as likely to be a drug addict, three times as likely to be alcoholic and nine times as likely to be homeless" (p49).

For this reason, forms of overt discrimination against men, such as the different ages at which men and women are eligible for state pensions in the UK (p25; p60; p75) and the higher levels of insurance premiums demanded of men (p73) are widely tolerated.

As Browne concludes, "the demand for equal treatment only goes as far as it advantages the [ostensibly] less privileged sex" (p77).

The apparent arbitrariness of the bestowal of 'victim-status' and its importance in public debate means, Browne contends, that "there is a large incentive for people to portray themselves as victims" (p13-14), such that groups as diverse as "the obese, Christians, smokers and foxhunters" are battling to redefine themselves as 'oppressed groups' (p14).

Browne characterises this as a perverse "competitive victimhood" (p44), whereby incentives are reversed and people are encouraged to strive for the bottom rather than the top, thereby undermining "one of the main driving forces for progress in society, [namely] the individual pursuit of self-improvement" (p45).

Euro-Scepticism
Unfortunately, despite the useful definition of political correctness that he offers ("an ideology which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and which makes believers feel that no dissent should be tolerated": p4), in some of his subsequent discussion, Browne proceeds to ignore this definition and, in the process, sometimes extends the concept of 'political correctness' beyond its sphere of usefulness.

For example, he describes 'Euro-scepticism' (opposition to the further integration of the European Union) as a politically incorrect view (p60-62). However, there is no obvious 'victim group' in need of protection from Euro-scepticism (the EU institutions themselves can hardly qualify). Moreover, and probably for this very reason, Euro-sceptic views, although often derided as ignorant and as motivated by Jingoism, are not deemed offensive or as outside the bounds of acceptable discussion. On the contrary, Euro-sceptics are regularly given a voice in mainstream media outlets.

Browne's extension of the concept of political correctness beyond its sphere of usefulness in this way is typical of many critics of political correctness, who succumb to the temptation to define as 'political correctness' as any view with which they themselves happen to disagree. Extending the definition of political correctness in this way enables them to tar any views with which they disagree with the label of 'political correctness'.

Perhaps more importantly, it also allows these ostensible opponents of 'political correctness' to purportedly condemn 'political correctness' while never actually violating its central taboos by raising any genuinely politically incorrect issues. Ostensible opponents of political correctness can therefore pose as heroic opponents of the contemporary inquisition while never actually themselves incurring its full wrath.

Jews, Muslims and the Middle East
Another example of Browne's tendency to extend the concept of 'political correctness' beyond its proper sphere is his characterisation of efforts to defend of the policies of Israel as an example of a politically incorrect view.

The Middle East is certainly an issue over which emotions run high. However, the 'ad hominem' and 'guilt-by-association' methods of argumentation which Browne describes as characteristic of political correctness (p21-2) are more often invoked by defenders of Israel than by her critics – the charge of 'anti-Semitism' here substituting for the familiar refrain of 'racism' (despite the fact that the Palestinians have at least as strong a claim to being 'Semitic' as do modern Ashkenazim).

For example, especially in the US, any suggestion that the US's small but disproportionately wealthy and influential Jewish community influences US policy in the Middle East in favour of Israel is widely dismissed as anti-Semitic, if not tantamount to proposing a Jewish world conspiracy.

Browne acknowledges that "the dual role of Jews as oppressors and oppressed causes complications for PC calculus" – because their history of oppression in the past (e.g. under the Nazis) conflicts with their perceived oppression of the Palestinians in the present day (p12). However, he hastily concludes, "PC has now firmly transferred its allegiance from the Jews to Muslims" (Ibid.).

There may be some truth to this. However, in some respects, the Jews retain their 'victim-status' as an ostensibly 'oppressed group' to this day, notwithstanding their disproportionate wealth, power and privilege.

Indeed, perhaps the best evidence of this is the taboo on referring to this disproportionate wealth and power.

Thus, while the Left endlessly recycles statistics concerning the supposed overrepresentation of 'white males' in positions of power and privilege, to cite similar statistics demonstrating the similar overrepresentation of Jews in these exact same positions of power and privilege is somehow regarded as 'anti-Semitic' and beyond the bounds of acceptable discussion – despite the fact that the average earnings of Jewish people and their disproportionate overrepresentation in influential positions in government, media and business surely far outstrips that of any other demographic, 'white males' included.

The Gender Pay Gap
In his opening chapter, Browne includes a Table identifying four issues where the "politically correct truth" conflicts with the "factually correct truth". One of these is the claim that sexual discrimination underlies the difference in average earnings for men and women (p8). This is also the first issue addressed in Browne's chapter on how political correctness affects policies (p59-60).

This is also included by David Conway as one of six issues, raised by Browne in the main body of the text, for which Conway purports to provide supportive evidence in a section entitled 'Commentary: Evidence supporting Anthony Browne's Table of Truths Suppressed by PC', which is included after the Epilogue and Postscript in some later editions.

Although standard practice in mainstream journalism, it is regrettable that Browne himself offers no references or sources to back up the statistics and data he cites. Indeed, the 'Commentary' section included at the end of some later editions of the book represents the only real effort to provide citations for many of Browne's claims and this is authored, not by Browne himself, but by David Conway, a professor of philosophy.

Unfortunately, this 'Commentary' covers only a few of the many issues addressed by Browne in the main body of the book. Nevertheless, among those topics which are addressed by Conway in this section is the causes of the gender pay-gap.

In support of Browne's contention that "different work/life choices" and "career breaks" underlie the gender pay gap (p8), Conway cites the work of sociologist Catherine Hakim (p101-103).

However, more comprehensive expositions of the factors underlying the gender pay gap and the sacrifices endured by men in return for their higher levels of compensation are provided by Warren Farrell (Why Men Earn More) and Kinglsey Browne (Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality).

Moreover, Anthony Browne, in common with most commentators on the gender pay gap, neglects to factor in a more fundamental feminist fallacy with regard to the average earnings of men and women – namely their failure to recognise that, despite earning more money than women, much of the money earned by men is actually spent by their wives, ex-wives and girlfriends (not to mention their daughters), such that, although women, on average, earn lower wages than men, women are known to dominate most areas of consumer spending.

Browne also usefully debunks the another area in which the demand for equal pay has resulted in manifest injustice – namely the demand for equal prizes for male and female athletes at events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships (a demand since capitulated to).

As Browne points out, "logically, if the prize doesn't discriminate between men and women, then the competition that leads to those prizes shouldn't either", such that, on this view, there wouldn't be separate men's and women's events at all, and men and women would compete on equal terms against one another (p76-7). However, if this were the case, then, obviously, "women would win virtually nothing" (p77).

After all, "those who insist on equal prizes, because anything else is discrimination, should explain why it is not discrimination for men to be denied an equal right to compete for the women's prize" (p77) – a case that, one suspects, transsexual activists may soon be making in all seriousness.

By analogy, Browne notes, "it would currently be unthinkable to make the same case for a 'white's only' world athletics championship" (p77). Yet, he observes, "it is currently just as pointless being a white 100 metres sprinter in colour-blind sporting competitions as it would be being a women 100 metres sprinter in gender-blind sporting competitions" (p77).

International Aid and African Underdevelopment
Another topic included by Browne in his Table in Chapter One as one where the "politically correct truth" conflicts with the "factually correct truth" (p8) and covered by David Conway in his commentary (p113-115) is that of African 'underdevelopment' and poverty.

The politically correct answer, according to Browne, is that African poverty results from inadequate international aid.

However, Browne observes, "development aid has a poor record of promoting economic development" (p48). Instead, Browne claims that the real explanation for African poverty is "bad governance" on the part of their own leaders (p8).

However, though partially convincing on its own terms, this argument merely begs the further question as to why African countries are so prone to "bad governance" in the first place – not to mention why places outside of Africa but populated and governed by individuals of primarily sub-Saharan African descent (e.g. Haiti, Jamaica, and even some majority-black US cities, such as Baltimore and Detroit) seem to be so often similarly afflicted with the same social pathologies (e.g. high rates of violent crime).

To the extent any explanation is offered for this pattern, underdevelopment is usually blamed by the Left on the legacy of European colonialism. Indeed, while Browne claims that the politically correct explanation for Africa's perceived 'underdevelopment' is that this results from a lack of international aid, in my experience the usual explanation offered by the Left is that the legacy of colonialism holds these countries back.

Unfortunately, however, this explanation fares little better.

For one thing, it merely begs the question why it was that Africa was colonized by Europeans rather than vice versa? The answer, of course, is that much of sub-Saharan Africa was 'underdeveloped' even prior to colonisation – this was what allowed it to be so easily conquered and colonized by European adventurers.

Moreover, it is notable that those few African countries largely spared European colonization (e.g. Liberia and Ethiopia) appear to be, if anything, rather worse-off, as measured by various developmental indices, than are many of their Sub-Saharan African neighbours.

Indeed, this may be precisely because they lack the sort of infrastructure (e.g. railroads) which the much-maligned colonial rulers of other African states were largely responsible for bequeathing them. In other words, far from European colonialism being responsible for African 'underdevelopment', much of Africa owes what little economic 'development' it has managed to achieve largely to its period of European colonial rule.

In contrast, it is notable that other (non-African) former European colonies that gained their independence at around the same time as those former colonies in Africa have often been notable success stories (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, even India – not to mention Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc.).

More plausible alternative explanations for differential levels of 'development' compatible with political correctness have been developed (e.g. Jared Diamond's rightly acclaimed Guns, Germs and Steel).

However, one suspects that merely addressing the question of the ultimate reason why bad governance and underdevelopment are more prevalent in some parts of the world than others, and why some peoples invented science and technology while others never even managed to invent two-story buildings, a written script and the wheel, is too politically incorrect a topic for even Browne to touch upon, since the alternative explanation (namely that for which James Watson was recently excoriated and driven into retirement for raising and which has been more fully developed by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in IQ and the Wealth of Nations and Michael Hart in Understanding Human History), will always lurk unspoken like an elephant in the room, too politically incorrect for even Browne to risk addressing.

Is Browne a Victim of Political Correctness himself?
This observation then converges with many of my earlier observations in suggesting a single overarching problem with Browne's otherwise admirable dissection of the nature and effects of political correctness – namely that Browne, although he poses as an opponent of political correctness, is, in reality, neither immune to the infection nor ever able to effect a full recovery.

For example, Browne rightly points to what he refers to as political correctness's ability to "divide and rule", describing how "the politically incorrect often end up appeasing political correctness by condemning fellow travellers" (37p). This is a characteristic feature of witch-hunts, from Salem to McCarthy, whereby victims are able to partially absolve themselves and avoid persecution by succumbing to pressure to name and 'out' fellow-travellers who are then persecuted in their place.

Yet, ironically, Browne himself provides a perfect illustration of this tendency when, having condemned the blacklisting of BNP members for their political views, he nevertheless issues the obligatory, almost ritualistic, disclaimer, by condemning the party as "odious" (p52). Yet this perfectly illustrates the appeasement of political correctness which he has himself identified as central to its power.

Similarly, Browne fails to address any of the most incendiary issues, such as those that resulted in death threats to the likes of Jensen, Pizzey and Steinmetz. After all, to discuss the really taboo questions would not only bring upon him even greater opprobrium than that which he has already faced but also possibly deny him a platform in which to express his views altogether.

Browne therefore provides his ultimate proof of the power of political correctness, not through the topics he addresses, but rather through those he studiously and sometimes conspicuously avoids. In failing to address these issues, either out of fear of the consequences or out of genuine ignorance of the facts due to the media blackout on their discussion, Browne provides the definitive proof of his own fundamental thesis, namely the political correctness corrupts public debate and subverts free speech.

References
Archer, J. (2000). 'Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: a meta-analytic review'. Psychological Bulletin 126 (5): 651-80.
Fiebert, M.S. (2009) 'References examining assaults by women on their spouses or male partners: An annotated bibliography' (available online).
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